"It's really important that we show that we are talking to people and listening to them and hearing their views," Sarah Laitner, communities editor at the FT, told Journalism.co.uk. "It's also an important source of generating traffic and registrations to our site, which has metered access."
And reporters are also encouraged to use social for newsgathering. "It might have been that in years gone by you were out on your beat, but now your beat has also emerged on Twitter, on Facebook and on LinkedIn," Laitner said.
Sarah Laitner, who has been in her current role for 18 months, was previously blogs editor, and before that Brussels correspondent, for the FT. More recently she has been joined in the newsroom by Maija Palmer, a former technology correspondent and editor in the management team, who has taken up the role of social media journalist. There's also Rebecca Heptinstall, a social media manager in the communications team.
In this feature we run through 10 lessons in social media engagement from the FT, looking at the different ways it engages with its audience on social media across platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Tumblr.
The Financial Times Facebook page has nearly 700,000 likes, and the engagement proves that Facebook not only works as a distribution platform for viral cat videos and quirky stories, but for business and economics too.
"It's a question of tailoring the question or picking the topic that will resonate particularly well with people on Facebook," Laitner said.
Here are a few Facebook lessons:
1. Use Facebook's regionalisation feature to speak to readers in particular countries
The FT has a global readership and the team frequently uses the regionalisation feature of Facebook to "personalise our fans’ experience", Laitner explained.
At the height of the unrest in Brazil in June, Laitner and Palmer decided to ask Facebook followers who live there what they thought it would take to end the protests.
"Brazilians are really active on social media and we received an incredibly strong, thoughtful response from our community," Laitner said. The replies were so strong they were compiled and published as a post on FT.com, "which was one of the most read articles on our site that afternoon".
"You really can get quite striking results when you pitch news to particular parts of the world," Laitner said.
2. Run Facebook Q&As
The FT has also found success in bringing financial stories to readers through live Facebook Q&As, a feature launched by Facebook earlier this year.
Here is an example of a Q&A "which puts readers in direct contact with often quite senior journalists", Laitner said.
"There seems to be a view that stories about the markets or business won’t flourish on social media, but we find that there is a healthy appetite for them.
"It’s not just passive either. In these Q&A sessions our readers put questions to our journalists on features about financial markets, business education and more."
In addition to live Q&As, the FT also encourages journalists to take part in the discussions on Facebook.
"When we put a big economic analysis piece on there we get lots of comments," Laitner said, and those questions are then taken to the journalist and the reader gets a reply.
3. Post infographics
As with the other social platforms, the FT has found infographics gather lots of reaction and interaction.
"Picking an 'FT chart of the day' for use across several sites is a simple but effective way of reaching people on social media, as they respond well to graphics and pictures," Laitner said.
For example posting this infographic with a question on whether Singapore is the next Switzerland worked well. As did this graphic and question asking 'where can young people find jobs?' And there's this infographic on Apple and tax and the question of whether Apple's image is harmed by coverage of its tax arrangements.
4. Always check how the post appears on mobile
As mobile now accounts for nearly 50 per cent of traffic to ft.com, the analytics team at the FT provide Laitner and colleagues with statistics on social traffic and engagement on different devices, and they are noting a "shift to mobile", she said.
It is important to think about what content on all social media platforms looks like on a range of devices, she advised.
5. Consider creating two Twitter accounts
The Financial Times has around 50 Twitter accounts, and takes an interesting approach to the most popular two.
@financialtimes, which has almost 1.4 million followers, gives followers a stream of auto-posted headlines while @ft, with nearly 900,000 followers, consists of tweets composed by Laitner and her colleagues.
"In this way, the two separate accounts offer distinct experiences for followers, who can choose what they prefer," she said.
"That's quite useful for readers, as if you just want headlines neat you can go to one, if you want a voice and an editorial twist with some pictures, some charts, some commentary on affairs, you can go to the other one."
6. Create Twitter hashtags to talk to readers and to crowdsource
The FT has created various Twitter hashtags. One of the most successful was a recent interactive graphic on the value of personal data. Readers were able to become part of the story by entering personal details and seeing what their data was worth.
They could then send a tweet containing the value of their personal data, pre-written and including the hashtag #ftdataworth.
Just last week they used #FTMyLondon to encourage readers to send pictures for a slideshow on their favourite places in London. Other examples which have proved popular are #ftcareertips and #fttax.
7. Use Twitter for features
Laitner explained that she was keen to expand on the strength of FT Weekend stories on social media. "Features on the arts, lifestyle, sport, property and our 'lunches with the FT' do particularly well," she said.
This FT Weekend feature by columnist Simon Kuper received about a quarter of its traffic from social media. A tweet with the message 'Wow. £229,286 per Tube stop - what determines property prices in London...' had 3,655 clicks, and one which said 'It's not all nightclubs and €25,000 champagne: @lucykellaway on the many faces of Ibiza #travel' received 3,599 clicks.
LinkedIn is often considered a tricky platform for news outlets to engage readers on. They know readers are there and it drives some traffic, but it can be hard to work out how best to generate meaningful discussion.
Laitner said she finds stories on management, discussion on studying for an MBA and other topics work very well with the business audience on LinkedIn.
Journalists often connect with LinkedIn groups related to their beats and FT articles also appear on LinkedIn Today as the title is one of the publishing partners and this "plays an important role in reaching new audiences", Laitner explained.
They also post to the FT company page, "which is a showcase platform for our strong content".
8. Create LinkedIn groups
A number of publishers harness the power of LinkedIn groups. For example titles from business-to-business publisher Incisive Media have different strategies when it comes to allowing people to join groups. (You can read more about that here.)
The FT also has several groups, including a popular readers' group, which has more than 11,000 members, where they post articles and polls.
Unlike some of the groups run by Incisive, which limit access, the FT allows anyone to join the readers' group.
"It's a good way of reaching out to people who may not be familiar with us from our website but might encounter us on LinkedIn," Laitner said.
They post stories and run polls. Indeed one currently running asks members what type of stories they would like the FT to share.
The Financial Times was the first UK-based news outlet to pass the 1 million followers milestone on Google+. But do they find the platform useful?
Laitner said that she finds "you get a good debate going and often it's quite a measured debate".
"I think it's an important site and demonstrated by he fact that nearly 2 million people have us in their circles," she added.
9. Post stories, pictures and charts of interest to the Google+ community
"We think quite hard about what we post there based on the community," Laitner said, explaining that they have found technology stories are popular, as are articles and videos on cars and the automobile industry.
"Comments and charts and things to do with numbers, whether facts or figures or a blog post on a statistical quirk" do particularly well, Laitner said, pointing us in the direction of this FT chart of the day on new leaders of economic growth, which has more than 300 +1s and 180 shares. This infographic on graphene also generated much debate. And a post on Apple and emerging markets clocked up more than 1,900 +1s and 400 comments.
The FT launched a Tumblr to mark the title's 125th anniversary.
It was set up to "showcase our rich history and deep archives", Laitner said. "It was a great way to tap into the affection our readers feel for the FT, to tell people about our work and also to share our present day graphics, photos and videos."
10. Consider launching a Tumblr to showcase a range of content
Some news outlets use Tumblr blogs to show just one area of content, whether music, food or fashion. Others, like the FT, use it as a means of showcasing a "broad sweep" of content. (You can read about how different news organisations use Tumblr in this post published last year.)
Laitner said the approach the FT has taken is working well for them, with content ranging from "illustrations by our cartoonists, to magazine covers, to our videos, to our chart of the day".
And as Laitner's role as community editor also involves encouraging journalists to reply to readers in the comments on ft.com, we thought it was worth a mention – particularly as the news outlet has made a recent change to highlight reader comments.
"Our readers’ comments are incredibly important to us," Laitner said. "They give our stories context and provide valuable feedback. Our community expects to be able to engage with our journalists and we encourage our journalists to read and reply to comments on their stories," she explained.
"A recent innovation is a box on the ft.com homepage where we are showcasing readers' comments."
They are not the only news outlet bringing comments out from below the bottom line of stories, with the New York Times trialling the delivery of certain readers comments next to articles, while blogging platform Matter and more recently business title Quartz, decided to allow readers to add annotations or notes, next to the relevant text.
For more social media news from Journalism.co.uk, click this link.
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